For much of the last year we have tried everything possible to get the Welsh Government to release the details of consultation work carried out again on their behalf into efficiencies within the Welsh NHS: letter after letter, Written Questions, plenary contributions and Freedom of Information requests – then, finally, a complaint to the Information Commissioner.
Last week I asked the First Minister why his government felt it appropriate to withhold this information, despite a legal obligation to do so. Ultimately it took direction from the Information Commissioner, following our complaint, to force his hand on this.
I don’t think we have to stretch the imagination too far to understand why… The documents were a damning indictment of his Government’s management of the NHS in Wales.
When we finally received the information, some 7 months late, the email trail revealed that McKinsey consultants had met with NHS officials to discuss potential ‘efficiency savings’ in the Hilton Hotel of all places; which rather brings to mind a G8 summit on food shortages, where delegates (including Gordon Brown) thought it appropriate to take a 6 course lunch followed by an 8 course dinner.
At this meeting, in the Hilton, several items were put on the agenda:
· Cutting 1200 nurses;
· Cutting the number of hospital beds and wards;
· Closing NHS facilities – and delaying opening new facilities;
· Freezing promotions for NHS staff;
· Reducing the number of training places;
· Leaving NHS vacancies unfilled.
That’s why we need to know whether it is labour’s policy now, or indeed in the future, to cut the number of nurses and hospital beds.
One of the more revealing issues which emerged from the files, and was identified by McKinsey, was a breakdown in trust between the Welsh Government and local health boards. The documents painted a picture of an NHS dictated to from the centre, with health boards afraid to speak out against the financial challenges they were being forced to endure.
A transcript with NHS Directors warned:
LHBs cannot “state the extent of the financial challenges they face or the extent of the cuts necessary… without receiving an unfavourable response from the centre”.
At the very least, if it must be Labour’s policy to cut health spending in Wales, surely this should be done in consultation with, not isolation from, healthcare professionals?
This breakdown in trust between the Welsh Government and health professionals has had wider ramifications too, leading to mixed messages over the provision of frontline NHS care; with patients getting caught in the middle.
The First Minister repeatedly claims to have eliminated the use of private sector hospitals, whilst at least one LHB has been busy drawing up provisional plans for the use of the local independent sector.
That’s why we need clarity from Carwyn over Welsh Government policy on the use of the independent sector in the Welsh NHS. We need clarity from Carwyn over possible cuts to nurses and hospital beds. And most of all we need to see a culture of transparency and trust restored to the heart of the Welsh Government.